There is, I believe, a general cultural angst afoot throughout the non-Western world and even in parts of the Western world, although not as severely, that folks no longer have the ability to stave off what seems to be an ever increasing influx of foreign goods, ideas and forces in their lives.  The newly empowered urban middle classes who willingly partake in the success of our and their global economy, are often unsympathetic to the complaints of their poorer, rural brothers and sisters who are much more likely and more directly impacted by non-local economic, social and political forces, thereby setting the stage for national conflicts that many governments are unable to accommodate. 

While ISIL might not be the best example of how this global angst manifests itself, it can serve as a rather extreme social and political response to this near universal unease about the future; this global angst.  In my mind, the rise of religious fundamentalism in the West, in the Middle East, in Africa and in Asia is the direct result of a world that is too-fast changing for most people to understand much less adapt to.    The disruption that the spread of new technologies cause – and recall that it has only been since 1984 that the first Apple Mac was manufactured and only since 1998 that Google - a company who’s product is information - was formed and is now the largest corporation on planet Earth.   It makes one realize just how fast the world has changed.  And, inevitably, the disruption to everyday life such speed and pervasiveness causes is highly unsettling since, as is historically the case, people tend to rely on what they know, the “good old” rock bed principles and rules for living that used to be, even when these crutches are doomed to disappear.

Fundamentalist Christians here in the U.S. and radical Islamists (including ISIL) share the angst of living in a time of rapid social, economic, political and technological change and they resist and rage against it.  Change is hard.  It is threatening.  So the Christians fall back on the Bible and the Ten Commandments.  ISIS falls back on the tradition of the Caliphate when there was order and obedience in the Muslim world.  And even though our domestic fundamentalists may not realize it, both religious offshoots of their primary religions are reacting to precisely the same sets of circumstances – the fast changing, interconnected, hard to understand world that is the 21st Century. 

How does this explain the not-so-wonderful place of the United States in the ranking among the world of nations in 2015?  Easy.  No other country has epitomized the fast paced, ever-changing, ever ready to adopt the latest social and technological advances since the dawn of the 20th Century than has the United States of America.    Our economic success (until very recently), our stability (until recently) and our giving nature (until recently) as a nation of immigrants, our devotion (until recently) to the liberal, democratic, participatory, and equanimious nature of our society made us the envy of the rest of the world.  The French could label us rubes, (they still do) but we were the world’s most successful and admired rubes and no one could deny it.

But our great Post WWII success also carried a moral responsibility to ensure that our power was used for the betterment of the world, at least in theory, and not just for dominion.  After all we were the ones who were cheering on the newly free and independent states around the world who were throwing off the strictures of colonialism and repression.  And this is the part that where we have failed.  And not just because of our disastrous invasion of Iraq or our continued killing of terrorists around the world.  That we use our unprecedented military might occasionally for bad purposes is not necessarily a game changer to the rest of the world. (Viz our disastrous Latin American and Vietnamese adventures.)   But our ignorance of the impacts of our success – our economic dominance over the rest of the world – is something we’ve willfully or unwittingly ignored and it’s starting to come back to haunt us.

The global economy is here.  It’s a fact.  But we need to understand that for all the good things that means for us, cheap Walmart sneakers from China or Samsung flat screen televisions from Korea, there are other folks in the world who are being tossed about and battered by the very same economic policy decisions that are made in the glittering capitals of the world, those decisions and the wave-like influences that flow outward from such decisions and spread around the earth as easily as microwaves bouncing off a satellite in space, can also have severe negative impacts on people who still depend on the monsoon for a successful crop year or still rely on the local village money lender to buy seed for next year.  Our world is one in which effects can be instantaneous and disastrous especially when the decisions made in London’s International Coffee Exchange Board affects the price of some small farmer’s coffee crop in Tanzania or a transaction by New York’s foreign currency traders impacts a Punjabi wheat farmer’s ability to borrow money at reasonable rates for next seasons wheat crops. 

Unless we begin to understand the powerful forces that the Free Market global economy has unleashed upon the world, unleashed upon millions if not billions of unsuspecting folks just trying to make it from day to day, and unless we put our efforts to managing these forces much better than we have been, we will continue to see the likes of ISIL spring up to reverse the tides of change.  This is a real threat that can devastate the lives of millions in an instant and we must learn to see the world economy not only for the benefits it might bring to us but also from the viewpoint of the small farmer, the villager, struggling each day to provide sustenance for him and his family.   Whether we admit or not, we created this situation and we are the ones who are able to do something about it.  This is our responsibility, our global task to once again regain the trust and admiration of the rest of the world.  

Let’s get to work.


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